Lee Bom-son was born in 1920 in what is now communist North Korea. His short stories, "People in Hak Village" and "A Misfired Shot" brought him much critical acclaim as well as popularity. When he published "A Misfired Shot" he was a teacher at a church-affiliated high school in Seoul. After the story was published he was fired from the school because the school authorities regarded the main character's monologue, "Man is God's misfired shot" as an affront to christianity. His forceful and realistic depiction of the Korean suffering from the post-World War II division of the country, the Korean War and its aftermath is what made his short stories, especially "A Misfired Shot", such great successes. The main character in "A Misfired Shot", Mr. Song, is a representative of many Korean intellectuals who were as bewildered and frustrated as he.  
The so-called Liberty Village in Seoul was a ghetto of North Korean refugees who fled to the south after World War II. They were a group of people with the same accent and customs, huddled together in one area, within the alien milieu of South Korea. During the Korean War, they suffered more than the rest of the population. Lee Bom Son's Song is a representative of these people, educated but poor and alienated. The despair of the Korean people, that they were merely stray bullets in this universe, is the subject matter of this story. However, poverty, alienation, and hopelessness are universal human conditions of any dispossessed people.  

A Misfired Shot 


Chul Ho Song, a clerk in an accountant's office, sat at his desk long after the closing hour, not because he had any extra work to do but because he couldn't think of anything else to do. It was more than an hour since he put his book away. His office mates had left when the clock had barely reached five o'clock. He was hungry and tired after an eight-hour lunchless day.  
"Mr. Song, aren't you going home?"  
The janitor boy's question, which sounded more like a request, aroused him from his stupor. He was wearing worn-out Navy fatigue clothes keeping his hands in their two baggy pockets.  
"Well, I must go, mustn't I?" he said in a yawn.  
The boy started to sweep from the far corner and dust rushed toward him. He raised himself and went to the other side of the office. He poured water from a bucket into a basin and put his right hand in the water. The water was cool. He looked down at the soybean size blister on his pen-harassed middle finger from which, he noticed, a thin thread of blue ink was slowly uncoiling. The tiny blue current spread like smoke and turned the water blue like the transparent autumn sky.  
"Blood, it is blood," he mumbled to himself gazing at the chilly blue water deepening in the color. He cautiously withdrew his hand from the basin. Then he saw a face in the round mirror of the water. The face was smiling a smile bitter and distorted; forehead covered with long unruly hair, two dark sunken eyes, hollow cheeks, and a sharply edged chin. It was a face dull and scrawny like a corpse's. Yes, a corpse of a primitive man who had once upon a time gone out hunting with a stone hammer over his shoulder to feed his family in the cave. Did he catch a pheasant, a hare, a deer, or even a bear? No, he didn't catch anything, because there were too many hunters, more hunters than the hunted. The man threw himself on a rock and soaked his hands in a brook nearby. The bluish water suddenly glowed under the declining sun and his hands turned red. The water was bloody, he finally realized, from a bunch of entrails of an animal which an unknown successful hunter had thrown away in the brook.  
Song abruptly grabbed a piece of soap at his weird association and briskly washed his hands. From somewhere deep in him a hot lava of anger was churning upward as he prepared to leave his office.  
He was free with no empty lunch box to carry, but his hungry stomach didn't help him climb the steep hill to his home. The hill was like a trash pile with dirty shacks covering it up like mushrooms. It was called Liberty Village in the southern district of Seoul; it was named so, because refugees from North Korea assembled there. He turned into a narrow alley where rationbox-roofs lining it touched his shoulders. The ground was muddy with sewage water and reddish coal ash thrown out of every sinkless kitchen in the alley. At the dead end was a door made of brown cement sacks strung together by thin ropes of various colors. He pulled a leather string attached to the door, and was greeted by his mother's shrilly "let's go, let's go."  
It was the voice of his now insane mother who retained not a trace of her original soft voice. It was more like a witch's shriek. He stepped into her dark room filled with the odor of every form of poverty. He was looking down at his mother when he suddenly thought of a mummy he saw at a museum when he was in high school. But this - his - mummy had gray hair and was wrapped in rags. She was lying with her face to the wall and shouted "let's go, let's go" at strangely regular intervals as if hiccupping. He wondered how such a knife-edged shrill could come out of that mummy-like body.  
 He then went over to his room and sat down heavily on the floor. Weariness and anger crushed upon him until it became virtually a physical labor to restrain himself from breaking out loud in cries. Until two months ago he always said, "Mother, I am home," whether she understood him or not. But now no more of even that. All he did was just stare down at her stoically.  
Out of the dark corner of his room his wife came forward. She wore slacks made of an old Army blanket with two knees sewed on with patches of different colors, perhaps from some old clothes. She was enormous with child. She stolidly passed by him and went into the kitchen, reminding him of a sleepwalker.  
He shrank back as if hit by an invisible hand. Beside him was his five-year-old daughter looking up at him with her big round eyes. Trying to smile, he merely grimaced.  
"You know what? Uncle promised me to buy me a nylon skirt."  
"And shoes, too."  
"Then mama and I will go to the big department store downtown."  
His mind was too occupied with her palid little face to respond to her happy report. Her skirt was a piece cut out from his old shirt and a string held it around her waist. She had on a pair of mismatching socks too large for her feet which she held with rubber bands.  
"Let's go, let's go," His mother's voice came again like a curse. He had heard it for seven years, but still it was a stranger's voice. He closed his eyes, desperately checking himself from breaking down under this dark oppression.  
He went out after supper to the top of the hill where he found some solace sitting on a rock and looking down on the streets. He gathered his knees in his arms and waited for the neon-signs to light up in the dark. There came a whiskey advertisement blinking in green. As the night deepened the rock began to cool off; only the spot he sat on was warm enough. It didn't last long though. He stood and put his hands in his pockets while turning on his heels to find the Dipper among billions of stars outshining the colorful neon-signs millions of miles down. Then he found the brilliant Polar Star near the Dipper. With his eyes he drew a straight line between himself and the Polar Star and stretched the line as far as his eyes could reach. On that far spot was his hometown. He could even see the main road cutting through the town and the little rocks and trees along it.  
It was getting cool. He shivered and sneezed and decided to go home. As he turned into his alley, he was struck by his mother's "let's go, let's go." At night the eerie voice reached even the other end of the alley. "Let's go, let's go." He stopped and stood there until the next anguishing cry sent a shudder down his spine. Finally he moved toward his home and her voice became clearer and louder.  
She meant that they all must go back to their home in the north. She meant that they must go back to the past to get out of the present misery. Even before she became insane, she used to say that the family should go back home which they had to abandon after the communists occupied the northern half of Korea. She did not understand the invincibility of the 38th parallel. He explained it a hundred times, all in vain.  
"I don't understand. I just don't understand it. 38th parallel? Have they built a wall reaching the heavens? Who is he that blocks the way of the people who merely want to go back home?" was her answer.  
"I want to die in my own home. This is not living. How long can you endure this kind of misery?" she angrily asked.  
His reply, "Mother, but we are free here in the south," however, meant little to her. He tried to explain the meaning of freedom enumerating all imaginable examples, but eventually he found it impossible to explain freedom to his mother whose fervent wish to go home was too innocent to be explained away in any political discourse however down-to-earth it might be. His mother, on the other hand, found it beyond her grasp to understand her son who stubbornly refused to comply with her wish while he was suffering from abject poverty and humiliation. She concluded that he was not concerned at all with her desperate wish and came to resent him with all earnesty.  
Of course, his heart ached at his mother's passionate nostalgia. She had led a life of considerable abundance, ease and grace as the wife of a landlord in her hometown. Even if she insisted she did not understand the arbitrary division of the country by foreign forces, she knew that the hill overburdened with filthy shacks was not truly what could be called Liberty Village.  
"When my country was emancipated from Japan, I cried aloud with joy. I even put on the crimson skirt I wore at my wedding and danced around. But, look, what has happened since then. Is this what we expected after liberation? I don't understand it and I don't like it. Whatever went wrong and whoever did it, certainly this world is not right," she used to say. After regaining the country only to lose one's own home was really an enigma to her.  
Then came the Korean War in June, 1950. When the nearby district was engulfed in soaring flames after a bombing and thick smoke girdled the Liberty Village, his mother exclaimed, "Look, my son, this is the time to go home. Let's go, let's go. The wall is fallen and the 38th parallel is gone. Let's go." With this last remark she completely lost her sanity. His mother now in this dark dirty room was no more his mother. She didn't recognize any of the family members. She had lost memory of everything and the only sign of her being alive was her persistent cry of "let's go."  


Through the tiny hole in the paper door came a ray of brownish oil lamp light. Song opened the door to his mother's room. The lamp flickered and under the dim light he could discern his daughter sound asleep in a piece of Army blanket. She looked pale and lifeless like a miniature porcelain angel. Beside her sat his wife with a pair of red velvet shoes on her lap. Holding up the shoes on her right palm toward him, she said,  
"Uncle bought these for her."  
Her eyes shaded by her unusually long lashes were faintly smiling. It seemed a hundred years since he saw her smile. As she herself had long forgotten that she was once a beauty, so had he almost forgotten his wife's smiling face. He took the shoes and looked them over slowly and deliberately.  
"Have you been out for a walk?" asked his brother who till then had been silently watching him.  
"Uh-huh. When did you come home?"  
"I have just come in." His brother hadn't even untied his tie.  
"Brother!" At this sudden call, Song turned the shoes over to his wife and looked at his brother.  
"Let's have a real life. Everybody seems to be doing fine except us. I don't think we deserve to live like this. We also can have a big house as good as anybody else's. Then I will put a big nameplate on the gate so that everybody yards away can read it." His brother talked in this manner whenever he drank. He had been released from the Army for two years and hadn't been able to get a job yet.  
"And we can buy one of those imported American cars like those rich guys. I am sick of them. When I get rich I will drive it all day long just to show off and spite them all," he sounded more drunk as he went on puffing a cigarette with such gusto that he seemed eagen to clean off his accumulated resentment with the blue smoke.  
"So, you drank again," Song said, ignoring his brother's bravado.  
He did not like his brother behaving as he did. His brother was a college junior when the Korean War broke out. He had worked through his college years, but he didn't have any special skill or a powerful connection, which was the first requisite for a job these days.  
"Yes, I drank a little bit on my friends' insistence." It was the same old answer which Song knew was not a lie.  
"Isn't it time you stopped drinking so heavily?"  
"Whenever I meet my friends, drinking naturally follows.""I know, what I mean is restrain yourself from getting together with your friends."  
"I cannot do that."  
"But you cannot forever get together and drink away your time. Do you think you can accomplish anything by that?"  
"Accomplish? Nope! We just feel so hopeless and desperate that we gather and then somehow get to talk and drink."  
"I know, but that is what I don't like."  
"But, brother, isn't it a comfort to have such friends? Even though they are a miserable bunch, I shudder to think how I could have lived so far hadn't there been their companionship. All of them are wounded somewhere on their bodies; as a matter of fact, one guy is one-armed and another is legless. But, brother, they are all good. At least they don't cheat others even though they talk big sometimes. Yes, they are my friends, they went through the orgy of the battle-fields together."  
His brother sighed deeply, exhaling a plume of smoke. In the general silence he went on puffing while loosening his tie with his left hand.  
"Let's go, let's go."  
His mother interrupted the silence from the darkest corner of the room. His brother turned his head toward her and remained motionless for a long time. Song fumbled in his pocket and found a dried piece of cigarette with a tiny trademark "Blue Bird" on it. He held the short twisted cigarette butt between his thumb and the first finger.  
"Take this one, brother," his brother offered him a pack of Lucky Strike. He merely glanced at the sleek shiny pack and turned to light his own Blue Bird. When he lowered his head to the lamp, his hair scorched and curled. His brother watched his pale worry-smitten face with a slightly derisive and sardonic smile.  
Song sat there looking at the tiny precarious flame while his brother attentively watched the burnt cigarette butt in his finger tips.  
"Let's go." His mother's plaintive entreatment came darkly as from a deep subterranean tomb.  
"You don't like my smoking American cigarettes, brother?"  
"Unbecoming to your condition," he answered without looking up.  
"But, which one do you like better, American cigarettes or the Blue Bird?"  
"Well, of course, American cigarettes taste better. So what?"  
So, you, who cannot afford even two meals a day smoke Lucky Strike simply because you like it better, is that it? He didn't say this, but his brother knew.  
"Yes, I chose Lucky Strike because it tastes better."  
"Ha, is that so?"  
"Brother, you don't understand me at all."  
"...... "  
"You know I don't have money to buy expensive cigarettes. My friends bought them for me. I know you don't approve of my getting drunk and coming home in a cab. I also know that often you don't have even a quarter to ride a bus and walk more than four miles to come home. But do I have to refuse my friends' favor and walk home simply because you walk? There is no reason why I should do that. My friends are a strange lot. They buy whiskey, cigarettes, and even pay my taxi fare, but they never give me money," he said twirling his Lucky Strike.  
"It's already two years since you came out of the Army. You must find something to do and soon."  
"I know. I must find something. I have already made up my mind to do something, anything for that matter, within this month."  
"You have to get a job."  
"A job? like yours? You work eight hours a day like a slave and get paid hardly enough to pay your bus fare. Work like you to make someone else rich?"  
"Then, is there any other way?"  
"Of course there is, if I gather up enough courage."  
Song couldn't take his brother seriously. He merely looked at him and felt his finger tips burn. He put his cigarette in the beer-can ashtray.  
"Yes, courage."  
"What do you mean?"  
"At least as much courage as a crow's. You don't have to be clever. A crow doesn't fear a scarecrow because he is not as clever as a sparrow," when his brother said this, he again flickered that strange sardonic smile.  
"You are not planning anything unlawful by any chance?"  
"No, nothing of that sort. I have just decided to discard everything to make a decent living."  
"Discard everything?"  
"Yes, I am going to discard from my mind my conscience, my moral sense, my adherence to tradition, and even my obedience to laws." His brother's eyes were shining.  
"Are you going to... ?"  
His brother didn't answer but looked straight into his eyes.  
"If I had done that I could have made money, too."  
"Done that? what, brother?"  
"Throwing away from my mind my conscience, my moral obligations, my love of tradition, and maybe even my legal obligation." Song's voice came out sharply in spite of his effort to control his mounting anger, and it momentarily subdued his brother.  
"I respect you, brother, my brother who suffers so much but endures so admirably. But you are too weak. You don't have courage. Your conscience is too strong. Maybe, the weaker you are, the sharper the thorn of your conscience becomes," his brother resumed.  
"Thorn of conscience?"  
"Yes, a thorn. Conscience is a thorn in your finger tip. If you pull it out, you don't feel it. But for some reason or other you keep it there and get pricked. Morality? That is just like a nylon panty, you may just as well not wear it, for it is transparent. Tradition? Tradition is like a ribbon on a girl's hair. If it is there, it is pretty, but you don't miss it if it isn't there. Law? Law is only a scarecrow. It stands there to scare the sparrows, but birds like crows are not afraid of it. Rather, the crows perch on its head. But the poor scarecrow cannot do anything about it. That's law."  
His brother lit another Lucky Strike. "Let's go," his mother shouted. She was asleep but her insistence didn't stop. Her wish to go back home seemed to have assimilated into her organs and came out like her breath.  
Song leaned against the wall and kept his eyes on his brother's impassioned face, which was the very image of despair. In the shadowy corner his daughter was sleeping and his wife sat beside her, listening to their discussion and playing with the little shoes in her hands. Song bowed his head, and his brother inhaled deeply several times before he started to speak.  
"Brother, I understand your attitude toward life, that is, to live honestly even in poverty. Of course, it is good and right to live uprightly. But, the sacrifice several people in this family have to pay is too great a price for keeping your conscience clean. They are hungry and miserable. Even your decayed you, you don't have the guts to do something about your decayed teeth that bother you so much. When you have decayed teeth, you have to go to the dentist and have them pulled out. But you just endure the pain with clenched teeth. I know you don't have money to go to the dentist. No money, that is the problem. But that's not all. You've got to get some money to take care of your teeth. You think that to endure pain is to gain money. In other words, no spending is gaining. However, brother, it is not gaining when you don't spend for what is absolutely necessary to live like a human being."  
He continued, "There are three groups of people in the world. The first group is the one that makes money sheerly for its own sake; they make more than they need. The second is the group that makes barely enough money to buy things necessary to make a living. And the last group is the one that makes less than it absolutely needs; therefore, this group shrinks its expenses instead, just like fitting your feet to your shoes. Brother, you belong to the last group. You may say that in order to live an honest life, you cannot be but poor. That may be true. To live honestly may be good, but what else does it do? To live honestly with a spotless conscience, that is that, no more. With your immaculate conscience, you will always have to suffer from your toothache, I am afraid. If, dear brother, life were a little magic land which children look into through those magic glasses in the market place, you can just see that much life you want to see and pay a dime to the magician. But life is not the magic land in the glass which you can see and stop when you want to. Does our stomach stop growling when we don't have money? The trouble is you have to live even if you don't like to or want to. So, in order to live you must make money. And because you need money, you've go to get it. Why can't we live in a broader and freer sphere, just up to the line of law? Many people live even crossing the legal line back and forth. Why must we confine ourselves within the narrow boundary of conscience, morality, etc.? What is law, anyway? Isn't it a line we all as society members agreed to draw to have a decent life?"  
His brother abruptly held his head and threw his necktie into a corner. Song didn't answer and looked down at his bare toes protruding from his torn socks. He knew that nylon socks would last him at least six months, but he couldn't cut away the expense from his monthly salary to buy them. He always ended up with cotton socks that cost one sixth of the nylon socks.  
"Let's go," his mother shrieked as she turned over.  
"What you have said is a mere sophistry, illogical and irrational," Song said. He slowly raised his eyes and saw the enormous shadow of his wife on the opposite wall that looked like a battered old bulletin board covered with various yellowed newspapers. The shadow of his wife sitting hunched over beside the sleeping girl loomed like a monster on a screen. He closed his eyes again, and into his dark vision came the picture of his wife ten years ago.  
She was standing on a stage in white jacket and dark skirt, a lovely girl, singing a solo at her school's graduation concert. When she finished he rushed backstage to congratulate her while the long and enthusiastic applause was ringing in his ears. That night they walked and talked and their future promised them eternal happiness.  
He opened his eyes and saw her long silky lashes vividly reminding him of her now faded beauty.  
"Let's go," his mother's voice struck him.  
"Irrational? Perhaps," his brother said weakly after a long silence.  
"According to your logic, rich people are all bad and immoral."  
"No, I didn't evaluate their morality. Why is it bad to live luxuriously? Who is bad and immoral anyway? There doesn't seem to be a distinct line between good and bad, especially these days."  
"But according to what you said, to be well-off you have to discard your conscience, moral obligation, and so on."  
"Not at all. You misunderstood me. To make it short, it is like this. You can become rich and keep your conscience clean at the same time, but unfortunately very few can do that. On the other hand, if you only get rid of all those conventional virtues, you are sure to make a good living."  
"That is what I would call sophistry. That kind of philosophy is based on a twisted mental state."  
"Twisted mentality, maybe true. Mine is certainly twisted. But it got twisted too late. It should have twisted before mother became mad, before the Han River bridge was bombed out, before our only sister was forced to become a Yankee prostitute, long before the government came back to Seoul, and long long before I volunteered for the front line like a fool," his brother spoke passionately like an orator. After a pause he concluded in philosophical resignation, "a long, long time before those things happened, our mentality should have twisted, preferably from birth."  
Then he sank his head in his chest and sighed in a trembling subdued sob. His wife was silently rubbing away with her fingers a few tear drops she had shed. Song sat there unable to find a word to say.  
"Life is not what you think it is. You don't even know how a man should live," he said finally in a futile effort to console himself.  
"You are right. I really don't know how a man should live. But I know one thing clearly. In this world where everybody is howling and tearing at one another, I know what we must do just to survive, ha ha ha," his brother laughed hollowly with his eyes filled with tears.  
"Let's go." Their mother again urged them to go back home. Everybody turned his head toward her as if suddenly stricken by the new meaning of that heartrending supplication. Song let out a sigh so heavy that it almost blew out the lamp. The whole house seemed to be sinking down. The night was quiet and deep. From the alley came the quick steps of a pair of high heels. The footsteps came nearer and nearer and stopped in front of their door. Their sister soon came into the room. Her fresh and fine figure was in a black two-piece suit.  
"You are quite late today," his brother said to her. She ignored him and placed her pair of black high heels inside the room. Then she threw her purse on the floor, took off her jacket and skirt, and jumped into a blanket and buried her face under it. Song didn't even give a glance at his sister; he was instead recalling a scene one afternoon last summer.  
That day the streetcar he was riding stopped at the Ulchiro intersection. Clinging to a handle after a long day, he was blankly looking out of the window. At that moment he saw his sister Myung Sook with an American soldier in a jeep which happened to stop beside the streetcar. His face suddenly felt like in a fire. In the front seat beside the GI sat Myung Sook wearing enormous dark glasses. As if he couldn't wait till they arrived wherever they were going, the GI, with his left hand on the wheel, put his right hand around her waist and whispered something into her ear. She was nodding without turning to him. A taxi cab driver beyond the jeep in the next lane smirked at the strange couple. People in the streetcar joined in smirking and mocking at the sight. Two young men near Song commented:  
"For that sort of a girl, she prettied up herself pretty decently."  
"You can't see her face under those huge glasses."  
"Those girls have good business, you know, they don't even need any capital to start with."  
"Will there be any guy mad enough to marry that sort, I mean someday?"  
"Are you kidding?"  
Mr. Song let go the handle and went to the door in the middle of the car and faced away from the scene. His feeling was not exactly sadness; he felt as if a lump of hot charcoal was blocking his throat. He felt his nose fill with hot vapor and his eyes with hot water. He clenched his teeth fiercely. The signal changed and as the car started to move, he leaned against the door and closed his eyes. From that day on he hadn't spoken even so much as one word to her. She herself didn't bother to speak to him either.  
"Let's go to bed," his brother suggested. Song blew out the lamp, went to his room and lay down on the floor. His body felt like a soaked cotton ball heavily sinking, but he was not sleepy. The night was eerily quiet and time itself seemed to have stopped. His wife was asleep and moaned from time to time. He closed his eyes and felt the whole world drifting away from him.  
His mother's "Let's go" came loud and eerie. He opened his eyes and stared at the invisible ceiling. A faint moon light shining through a tiny hole drew a thin blue line across his daughter's body. He turned to the wall. "Let's go," his mother's voice came feebly to his ears.  
Myung Sook, on the other hand, opened her eyes and put her hand forward and tenderly held her mother's hand. It was a scrawny hand of skin and bones, damp and sticky. She turned over to her mother and gathered the unfeeling hand in her two hands.  
"Let's go," the mother shouted again, completely ignorant of her daughter's affectionate grasp.  
"Mama," Myung Sook called her.  
"Let's go," was the only blunt answer.  
"Mama," Myung Sook started to sob, drawing her mother's hand to her face. "Mama, mama," she continued sobbing bitterly.  
"Let's go," the mother snatched her hand away from her daughter and turned over to the wall. Myung Sook covered herself with her blanket and cried in a muffled sob.  
In the other room the little girl called, "Mommie," which Song heard in his half sleep.  
"Mommie," she called again.  
"Oh, dear girl, your mommie is right here," his wife said and gathered her in her arms.  
"I want to go to the bathroom."  
His wife sat up and took the girl to the chamber pot, and said, "Uncle brought you very pretty shoes. Want to see them?" Then she brought the shoes from under the girl's pillow and showed them to her.  
"Mommie, are they really mine?"  
"Of course, they are yours."  
"Are they very pretty?"  
"Yes, they are. They are beautiful red velvet shoes."  
"Oh, how wonderful," the girl hugged them close to her bosom.  
"Now, go back to bed."  
"May I put them on tomorrow, mommie?"  
"Sure, my dear."  
The girl crawled back into her blanket, then, asked again, "May I really wear them tomorrow?" as if she couldn't believe her mother.  
All were in a sleep. The thin ray of moonlight moved to Song. The little girl pushed her blanket aside and turned over on her stomach. She put her tiny hands beneath her pillow and touched tenderly her new shoes. Assured that they were still there, she went back to sleep. After a while she woke again and quietly drew the shoes to her bosom. She caressed them and put them on her lap. She held the shoes up in the moon light and looked at the white rubber soles and then put the soles together to see if they were matching in size. Then she put her feet forward and put them on. "Let's go," her grandmother's piercing shriek frightened her. She took off her shoes and put them carefully under her pillow and crawled back into her small share of blanket.  


To anyone that hadn't eaten lunch, the hour between two and three was the hardest to get over. Song laid his pen on his desk thinking that he would have one more cup of the free barley tea which the office provided for its employees. He had already drunk two cups brought to him by the office boy, and this time he didn't want to ask him again. So, he took the empty cup to the stove on which a pot of barley tea was invitingly steaming. He brought the brimming cup back to his desk. When he was taking a cautious first sip holding the cup in both hands, the office boy said, "Mr. Song, telephone call for you."  
He put down the cup and went to his chief's desk on which the telephone was placed.  
"Yes, I am Chul Ho Song. Police station? Yes, I am. Who? Yong Ho Song? Yes, he is my brother. What? I see, I see. Did my brother? Are you serious? All right, I will be there right away." He put the receiver back and stood there staring at the telephone unbelievingly. The whole office turned its eyes to him.  
"What's the matter? A traffic accident?" asked his chief.  
"No, I don't know. May I be excused?" He ran out of the office ignoring curious and worried glances of his office mates.  
It was not the first time he had to go to a police station. Whenever his sister was being investigated he had to go there to prove her identity. At such times he would hang his head in front of the investigator and walk out with her as soon as the examination was over. He wouldn't talk with her and she didn't seem to mind his indifference. Even though he cried in his heart for his only sister, he hated and resented her for having become the most despised of all fallen women. He would walk straight back to his office and she would simply disappear in the crowd without a word to him.  
But this time it was about his brother. His brother's impassioned talk a few nights ago flashed through his mind when he stepped into the South Gate Police Station. He didn't want to believe that his brother had done anything he had implied that night.  
"Armed robbery."  
When he heard the policeman's charge against his brother, he stared at the man across the desk unable to comprehend the brief statement. His face turned paler and more expressionless as he sat there staring. The policeman said that an employee of a downtown company was carrying a sack of cash from a bank for the company pay day. While the man was climbing into the company jeep, two men with hats down to their eyes and sun-glasses on swiftly climbed after him into the car.  
The driver drove the car as ordered to Wooidong and stopped at an isolated densely wooded spot. The two robbers ordered the captives to get out of the car threatening to kill them if they turned around. Then they drove back to the city at the fullest speed. The car, however, was caught not far from Wooidong, with only one man in it.  
When the police officer asked him whether he wanted to see his brother, he was still in a daze. The door to the detectives' room opened and his brother appeared.  
Young Ho, his brother, handcuffed, slowly moved to the desk and nodded to Song, whose face twitched spasmodically; only his eyes focused fiercely on his brother's face.  
"Brother, I am sorry. I failed at the line of humanity. I crossed the legal line quite easily. I should have shot them." His brother smiled peacefully. Song watched his brother's face as if he were trying to drive his eyes into his brother's.  
"Please, go back home," his brother said in a consoling voice. The detective ordered a policeman to take him back to the investigation room. His brother meekly followed the officer and stepped a few paces forward when he turned around to say,  
"Brother, please take the little girl downtown for once because I promised her so."  
When he heard the door slam, Song felt the whole world around him was a dark void engulfing him completely.  
"From the beginning he didn't seem to have any intention to shoot," the detective said to Song.  
"Do you know by any chance the man who cooperated with your brother?"  
Song was speechless.  
"He insists that he did it all by himself, but we have witnesses to contradict him," said the detective, finally to himself.  
Without knowing where to go, Song started walking. After a while he found himself on the sloping way up the hill to his home.  
"Let's go." He stopped there struck by the insane cry. He threw back his face and streams of tears ran down his cheeks.  
"Let's go, let's go. Where in the world does she want to go? Where in hell... " He wanted to shout back to his mother. Then he noticed a handful of small children who had stopped their game and were wathching watched him curiously and fearfully.  
"Where have you been all day?" His sister asked him in an annoyed voice when he stumbled into to his home. She was rearranging her dress boxes; in his room he found a pile of old clothes which his daughter was looking at with bright admiration as if they were some precious gowns.  
"You'd better hurry to the hospital," Myung Sook said.  
"Your wife is there. She is having serious troubles in labor."  
He felt dizzy. His wife, he was told, began labor around noon, but several hours passed with no progress, so they took her to the hospital where she was put in the ward of critical cases. His sister had frantically called him at his office, where, of course, he was not.  
"By now she way have had the baby or else... ," his sister said while picking some clean towels out of a box. He knew that she was preparing diapers.  
Song suddenly felt his energy drain out and at the same time his head became clear and calm. He felt just as he once did the day when he recovered from malaria-his body weak but his head clear. "What's the hurry?" he said to himself as he always did whenever he was assigned to a big piece of work in his office. He lit a cigarette as he always did, too, when he started on a new assignment. He went to the door when his sister asked,  
"Where are you going?"  
"To the hospital."  
"Why, you don't even know which hospital. It's Dr. Kim's Clinic on Choongmuro Street."  
He came out to the yard.  
"Wan't take any money with you?"  
He came back into the room and stood there helplessly. His sister snatched her purse off the wall and gave him a bundle of paper money. She turned around and continued her preparation of diapers.  
"Let's go," his mother broke in.  
"Daddy, are you going to the hospital? Did mommie get a new baby?"  
He put the money in his pocket and went to the door almost driven by another sharp cry from his mother. When he arrived at the clinic, his wife was already dead.  
"Is she?" He said to the nurse blankly as if answering to a common daily question. He didn't even ask where her body was.  
He moved toward the hospital door through the wide and clean corridor. He felt that a colossal job had been completed and he had nothing to do anymore. He felt that everything had just started and he had a million things on his hand. He felt that now he didn't have any need to hasten. He stood in front of the ghastly white hospital door, trying for a long time to decide where to go.  
Then he came into the main street and walked slowly along the streetcar rails. After infinite wandering he found himself heading toward his office. It was past six o'clock and he did not have to go there. He crossed the street and suddenly found himself at the gate of the South Gate Police Station. He turned around and walked away. He walked and wandered aimlessly and indefinitely. He was passing by the South Gate in the direction of his home, and yet he didn't mean to go home. He looked into the show windows of a stationer's, a radio shop, a photo studio, and numerous other windows. Then at last he saw a huge sign "Dentist" in red paint on a white rectangular board and stopped. All his teeth instantly began to pulse painfully. His hand touched the money in his pocket. He started up the staircase to the dentist's office.He was put in a dentist's chair and lay there with his mouth wide open. He was sleepy and languid while the doctor worked on his teeth.  
"Wasn't it painful? The root was crooked," said the doctor, showing him an ugly tooth decayed inside. Song shook his head to the dentist's sympathetic question because he didn't feel any pain.  
"Well, we are through. Take the cotton off in about thirty minutes. The scar will bleed quite a bit in the meantime," said the dentist.  
"Won't you pull the other tooth out, too? Please do," said Mr. Song.  
"No, we can't do that. You will bleed too much."  
"That's all right."  
"No, that is not all right. We will extract the other one in a few days."  
"Please, doctor. I want to get rid of all the rotten teeth."  
"No, I am sorry. We have to take care of them gradually one by one."  
"I cannot wait. It hurts too badly."  
"My answer is still no. If you lose too much blood, you will get into trouble."  
Song left the dentist's office and resumed his wandering. His mouth felt numb. He rubbed his cheek. Then he found another dentist's sign.  
"No, I am afraid I cannot extract your tooth today," the new dentist said the same thing.  
But Song insisted doggedly and succeeded in persuading the new dentist. When he left the clinic he had two cotton balls in his mouth on each of the two bleeding spots. He had to spit a mouthful of blood every once in a while.  
When he passed by the South Gate and came near the Seoul Railway Station, he felt a flash of chill going through his spine, and his head felt heavy and numb. At that instant all the street lights lit up. Then everything blurred into an abstract dark before his eyes. He closed his eyes and opened them realized, but it was darker than before the lights came on. He remembered that he was having this blackout spell because he hadn't eaten anything all day long. He suddenly felt devastatingly hungry. He went to a nearby electric pole and spat a mouthful of dense blood. An icy chill shot through his body and his legs became shaky.  
He staggered into a restaurant and called, "one rice in beef soup," to a waitress. Then he fell upon the table burying his face in his arms. His mouth began to fill up, and he rushed out of the restaurant to spit this time an amazing volume of blood. The two scars throbbed and the pain was piercing. To correspond to the throbbing gums, his head began to ache. He decided to go home and rest. He called a taxi.  
"Where are we going?"  
"Liberty Village."  
The cab driver waited for other cars to pass along to make a turn. When he finally managed to turn around, Song abruptly changed his destination and ordered, "No, let's go to Dr. Kim's Clinic on Choongmuro street."  
Remembrance of his wife's death flashed back to him. The driver made another turn in the opposite direction and the assistant driver glanced back at him. Song was slumped in the back seat, his face upward. When the car came in the vicinity of the hospital, he shouted, "No, take me to the South Gate Police Station." There was no need to see his dead wife, and his brother was still alive. The car sped on.  
"We are in front of the police station," said the driver.  
Song opened his eyes and sat up, then he slumped back again.  
"Let's go again."  
"Sir, this is the police station."  
"Let's go."  
"He must be drunk," said the driver angrily.  
"He certainly looks drunk," said his assistant.  
"Of all people in the world we got a man like a stray bullet. He doesn't know where he wants to go," the driver mumbled as he started the car.  
In his gradually diminishing consciousness, Song was thinking: "I have too many things to do-as a son, a husband, a father, a brother, and as a clerk of an accountant! Yes, driver, you are right, I am a stray bullet among God's other more accurate shots. I really don't know where my place is. But I have to go somewhere, anywhere."  
Song's mind was sinking rapidly into a fathomless lethargy. His body collapsed in the soft cushion seat and his face fell into his chest.  
"Where do you want to go?" the assistant asked again.  
But there was no answer from the back seat. As an intersection signal bell sent out its nervous clanging, the long parade of cars began to move. The taxi being in the parade moved along with others but to no destination. Nobody even noticed Song's white shirt slowly soaking in blood.  

Translated by Choi jin-young.